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Elderly Grief: Coping with loss after a lifetime of love

Partners who've spent 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years together have a bond that is lifelong. They've built a life together, perhaps raised children or seen different places together. They've no doubt been happy and then unhappy and happy again many times over but as we age, the loss of someone you love is inevitable for all of us. How can you help an Elderly loved one who's lost their long term partner or spouse find comfort and resilience?

Fred & Alice's story


Fred* and his wife, Alice*, had been married for 52 years. Both well into their 80s, Alice had become bedridden and needed help with dressing, eating and washing. Fred had lovingly taken care of her for three (precious) years. Despite the demands of caregiving, Fred never once complained or showed any signs of frustration. He was heartbroken when she passed away. He struggled with feelings of emptiness and sadness, and often found himself sitting in silence in their empty home.

When Alice passed away, Fred was left with not only the sense of loss and loneliness that comes with the death of a spouse, but also the additional loss of the meaningful caregiving role he had held for the last 3 years of her life. This loss of purpose and identity can be a significant contributor to feelings of sadness and confusion for those who have been caregiving for a loved one.

*Names have been changed for privacy and discretion


How to support grief


Grief for an elderly person who has lost a lifelong partner can be particularly difficult as they have likely spent many decades building a life together. It is understandable that they may feel a deep sense of loss and loneliness.


A loss of this magnitude can also cause this person to struggle with feelings of sadness, anger, confusion, and guilt. They may also experience physical symptoms such as changes in appetite or sleep patterns, or feelings of fatigue or physical discomfort.


Look out for these changes in your loved one and offer your support to help them grieve. Death is an uncomfortable topic for most people but it prevents us from truly being there for each other when we need it most. Here are some simple ways you can be there for someone and help them to grieve:


  • Listen and acknowledge their feelings: Show empathy and validate their emotions by simply listening and acknowledging their feelings.

  • Offer practical support: Offer to help with chores, errands, or other tasks they may be struggling with.

  • Encourage them to keep active: Encourage the elderly person to stay active and continue pursuing their interests, as this can help to reduce feelings of loneliness and depression.

  • Provide companionship: Offer to spend time with them, engage in meaningful activities, or simply be there for them.

  • Connect them with resources: Help connect the elderly person with community resources or support groups for individuals who are grieving, as this can provide additional support and comfort.

Most of all, be patient with your loved one. The grieving process can be lengthy and may involve periods of intense sadness alternating with periods of relative calm, as they try to come to terms with their loss and find a way to continue living their life without their partner.


If you or someone you know is in need of support during the grieving process, consider reaching out to the CareCompany for person-centred home care that prioritizes genuine companionship and high-quality care. Our team is dedicated to providing the highest level of care and support to those who need it, and we are here to help you navigate this challenging time. Please don't hesitate to get in touch with us to learn more about how we can help. Contact us on 072 667 8664 or email us at gethelp@carecompany.co.za.

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